Imphal: At least 189 stranded people from Northeast India arrived in Guwahati in Assam with the first direct flight from Dubai on Friday.
This is the first ever flight to the region and also the first ever FlyDubai flight in India, said Ngayaomi Ruivah, a Dubai-based graphic designer from the Northeast Indian state of Manipur.
Ruivah, along with two other youths from Manipur and currently residing in the Emirates, initiated and raised funds of over Rs 7 lakh. The amount was used to sponsor 23 stranded persons from the region to be sent back home by flight on Friday.
Of the 189 on board, 30 passengers are from Manipur. The rest are from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
Friday’s flight was a long time in the making, said Ruivah added.
“We started getting desperate calls for help in March when the lockdowns began and quickly rallied community leaders to help those stranded. It’s been a long struggle to finally get this first flight to take off,” said Ruivah.
According to Ruivah, the special FlyDubai repatriation flight which took off from Dubai was organised by Satguru Travel and Tourism, who worked with Dubai-based volunteers, and is the first ever direct flight to Northeast India from the United Arab Emirates.
“We did Guwahati because no one was taking care of Indians from the Northeast. We started looking into it after we received many requests and since we had the resources, we decided to help,” said Gaurav Keswani, a senior corporate sales executive at Satguru Travel and Toursim.
Keswani’s company has so far organised nine repatriation flights out of the UAE.
Many of the passengers, which included three infants, were stranded after India shut its international borders in March following the global Covid-19 crisis. A majority of them had lost their jobs in the UAE while some were visitors who could not return home after their visas expired.
Dubai-based businessmen also stepped in to help pay for 22 passengers’ tickets. Dhananjay Datar, the chairman and managing director of Al Adil Group, sponsored 10 passengers, while Mahesh Jaishankar, a Dubai-based businessman, and his family donated money for 12 passengers. Tickets cost Dh1,500 (about Rs 30,500) per head, informed Ruivah.
David Tusing, a Dubai-based journalist and editor from Manipur’s Churachandpur district, said there are still many more waiting to go home.
David along with Ruivah and another youth from Manipur, Angam Keishing, who works for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in Abu Dhabi, initiated the funds for distressed Northeastern people residing in the Emirates.
“There were many who worked behind the scenes to make all this happen. We especially want to thank Delhi-based Naga social worker Linda Newmai, who was instrumental in securing permits for citizens of Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya to travel by bus from Guwahati. And Mercina Panmei, the Director of Transport in Manipur, who authorised the release of buses during the lockdown,” said Keishing.
Without their help, the journey home for our brothers and sisters would have been even more treacherous due to Covid-19 restrictions at state borders, he added.
As per reports, many from the region residing in various UAE countries have been out of jobs for months and now volunteers, including the three youths from Manipur, are looking out for help from like-minded individuals, in order to can get to get them to board their flights.
“We still have more than 100 stranded Northeast Indians and we’re working with Satguru Travel and Tourism to organise another flight to Guwahati,” said David.
More than 125,000 Indians have been repatriated since May 7 from the UAE, according to the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi. That’s a fraction of the more than 450,000 Indians who have registered with the embassy to return home. Initially, only the state-owned Air India was allowed to operate repatriation flights, but the government has allowed private operators to assist in organising chartered flights since May.